Every body has a secret
Norwegian director André Øvredal (Troll Hunter) helms this mystery horror film starring Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch as father and son coroners who must find the cause of death of a Jane Doe (Olwen Catherine Kelly). After Sheriff Burke (Michael McElhatton) discovers the body of a women half buried in the basement of a grisly crime scene, the local press start to cover the story. Unsure of how or why, he brings the body to the family run coroners and tasks Austin (Hirsch) and his dad Tommy (Cox) to find a cause of death as soon as possible. Austin puts his plans with girlfriend Emma on hold to stay with his dad and work the case. However as the pair start their investigation into the cause of death, they are soon met with more questions than answers as they discover the body harbours some dark secrets.
Despite being a strong tonal shift from his previous film Troll Hunter, André Øvredal nails it with an atmospheric horror film that oozes creeping fear better than the majority of modern horrors. However it is not without flaw. After the film opens with father and son examining a heavily burnt body and digging deep to find the cause of death, we are treated to some stilted and unoriginal interactions between our main characters. Austin is looking to leave the family business, but of course hasn’t told his dad, and Tommy is a widower who doesn’t open up about his emotions or the loss of their wife and mother. Instances such as this are passable when developed, but here is pretty much just dialogue used to fill the air before things start going bump in the night. Thankfully this is confined to a relatively short opening, and once the Jane Doe arrives for examination horror takes over.
Utilising slow camera movements and choice angles Øvredal clinically sets the scene as Tommy and Austin start their examination. Every step taken and anomaly they encounter is fully dissected, without giving anything away, to enhance the lurking mystery that envelops the two coroners. As the examination progresses with items discovered within the body events start taking a turn for the worse, and thanks to some crafty lighting and direction the tension accelerates. But with this effective a build up you need a conclusion that will satisfy the efforts of what came before, and it arguably just about gets there though not necessarily original.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one heck of a mystery horror film that does the genre justice. It has all the requisite factors to make it a good film but thanks to some creepily effective finessed direction from Øvredal, and solid acting from the leads (including Kelly as the Jane Doe), it’s a cut above the majority of it’s contemporary counterparts.